Foot and Mouth Disease: Botswana Outbreak 2011

Foot and Mouth Disease is caused by a highly contagious virus that spreads rapidly in cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep.  It causes large vesicles (blisters) in the mouth and around the hooves, but does not have a high mortality.  (2-5% in most outbreaks, aside from one in Taiwan in 1997 that had near 100% mortality and only affected pigs.)  However, the pain associated with the lesions is great, often resulting in lameness and anorexia, which leads to very poor condition, greatly decreasing the animal’s value.  Recovery is slow and, accounting for time and extra feed spent bringing the animal back up to a selling weight, very expensive.  Because of this economic loss, the most cost-worthy option, and the standard protocol for most of the world is to kill the entire herd to prevent spread, and cut your losses at that.

A vaccine is available, but it makes screening for the virus impossible, because our detection of FMD is based on whether or not an animal is seropositive (has antibodies) for the virus.  The vaccine mimics the virus, creating a response that shows as a false positive during screening.  Screening happens in import/export situations to make sure a country without FMD is not importing cattle that have FMD.  Thus, vaccinated animals cannot be exported, and if an animal is positive on screening, it and any animals at risk (any animals near that one) need to be euthanized.  What’s more, the country where that animal is from is labeled as FMD positive, and there will be no exports accepted from there until that country is able to prove that they do not have the disease anymore (all animals are seronegative).  This can quickly become a terrible economic problem.

Such is the case in Botswana right now.  There is a “red zone” in the north of the country where wild buffalo reside.  Buffalo are natural reservoirs for FMD, it will multiply in them and spread from them, but not harm them.  Therefore, any cattle from that red zone are vaccinated there to prevent infection, and they cannot be moved out of the red zone or sold to other countries.  However, from the green zone, Botswana has historically had a strong partnership selling beef to Europe, a significant portion of the national income.  That was, until about February of this year.  Zimbabwe, unlike Botswana, does not limit the interactions of its cattle with buffalo, allowing frequent outbreaks of FMD in the country.   They have had a continuous bad run of FMD since about 2005.

Normally, a buffer of vaccinated non-exported cattle is kept between Botswana and Zimbabwe, but FMD still managed to spill over across the border into Botswana in early May 2011, potentially from illegal animal trafficking, near Francistown in the northeast.  Feed lots and export abattoirs were immediately shutdown and Europe put a ban on Botswana meat imports until the green zone is again FMD free, crippling the meat industry in Botswana (run by the Botswana Meat Commission) for the past month.  The disease continues to spread in the northeast, and until it is under control, there will be no more exports and the feedlots will remain closed.  In order to get things running again, an OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) inspection must find the area FMD free.  All viral infection must be stopped, and all vaccinated animals must be slaughtered for local consumption only, as in the red zone up north.

This is a big area of concern here; I’ll report more as the situation develops.  FMD rarely affects humans, is unrelated to human Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, and USA has been FMD free since the 1920s.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Julie McWilliams on 6 June 2011 at 15:53

    Ben: Im doing a story for the University of Pennsylvania homepage based on an interview I did with Harvey Friedman of the School of MEdicine but wanted to include some experiences and comments from some of the Penn students who are in Botswana this summer. Im fascinated by your attention to detail and would like to include some of your info and musings in my story, with your permission, of course. What do you think? I would use only a bit but include the link to your blog as well as inviting any pictures you may have for a compiled slide show.
    Please let me know what you think of my idea.


  2. Posted by calebdresser on 7 June 2011 at 10:31

    well, mistair golas, keep thy hooves clean. best from the top o’ the continent,



  3. So… I recall returning to America one of the customs questions is “have you been on farms/near livestock” or something like that. What happens when you have to check the yes box? Do they just disinfect your boots?


  4. Posted by Mick Gardner on 13 June 2011 at 17:39

    Very interesting stuff, Ben. I read every single entry in your blog the last time you were in Africa & found it to be very enlightening. When I heard that you had returned, I immediately thought that I would just hit the same website that I’d saved from your last trip there. Sure enough there were your first three entries. It’s been ten days since your last entry so I hope things are okay for you there. Even though it is connected with working & the work you will be doing in the future, I hope you will be able to enjoy most of it as the extraordinary experience & adventure that it sounds like when reading your blog entries. Good luck, stay safe…run fast if necessary.


  5. Posted by bengolas on 14 June 2011 at 03:15

    Julie: Please use anything you like! The point of this blog is to spread word of what goes on in the world, so I am happy that anyone interested should read it. Feel free to use any quotes so long as you include a link to the blog itself so people can get the full story. If I get a chance to upload pictures you can use them so long as credit is attributed. Thanks for the interest!

    blueyedcurl: I may tell a little white lie and check no to avoid trouble, knowing that all my things will be properly disinfected by myself upon return.

    caleb: The south is cold.

    Mick: Thanks for reading! I hope this little insights can help broaden people’s horizons, so it’s great to hear that there’s interest for this sort of thing.


  6. Posted by james on 25 August 2011 at 04:22

    Hi ben,

    Many of the questions relating to FMD and the impacts of control fencing can be found by googling – ferguson and hanks 2010 fencing impacts’.
    Commodity based trade is a relatively new way of trying to secure risk free beef at the abattoir stage (de-bone etc) as a means of allowing a limited beef export from infected countries – it is the EU, WTO and the rest who perpetuate the keeping down of Africa’s beef trade, with minor carrots given to certain compliant countries.


  7. Posted by tim on 1 June 2012 at 04:48

    Hi, my cattle in Maun (Matsebe) have FMD. How did this happen:
    1) The buffalo fence fell and was reported and not attended since Jan 2012.
    2) Due to anticipated drought in Toteng and Sehithwa area- farmers have moved cattle along the buffalo fence where there is greener grass.
    1) Kill all animals within the area, as you cant burn all grass infected!,
    2) Follow Ngami Land development plan- which has zoned area along beffalo fence as GAME RANCHES. This adds two extra fences on a Game Farm which would deter Game from entering cattle area.
    3) Adjust fire break along buffalo fence to clearly indicate Game Ranch zone and Cattle grazing zones (clearly documented in the Ngamiland Dev Plan).
    Why FMD will continue to occur in the area:
    1) Whoever repairs the buffalo fence is not effective,- Privatize the activity and hold someone responsible!
    2) Land Board has no understanding of Ngamiland development plan- i have evidence of this.


  8. Posted by keikantseone Modise on 15 April 2013 at 02:27

    the government of Botswana is doing all its best with the help of Veterinary to put all control measures on the ground for FMD.

    lets coorperate to win the battle. you cant eradicate cattle where there are plenty of buffalos, evry motswana should take reponsibilty on livestock and livestock byproducts movements. (buffalo fence is for all Batswana). avoid unauthourized animal movements.
    with regards


  9. How animals are managed in the red zone of FMD? and how to ensure that animals in the safe zones are not put at risk? Hopefully my questions will be answered.


    • Posted by bengolas on 7 May 2014 at 20:48

      Although it’s been some time since I visited Botswana now, I believe animals in the red zones are slaughtered locally ant not used in international trade. Many more studied than I have written about how to try to prevent outbreaks and keep animals disease-free, so I recommend more research into that subject, i.e. the comment on control fencing posted previously. Hope that helps!


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